Boy, oh boy – what a difference a year makes!!!
Here’s When Sid Slid’s take on the Braves’ top prospects at the end of the 2016 season with their projected 2017 placements (with ages during 2017) as well as projected ETAs for arrival at SunTrust Park.
Also keep your eyes peeled for a soon-to-come interview with Braves’ Director Of Scouting Brian Bridges where he’ll get to share his thoughts on where so many couch-evaluators (like yours truly and the rest of us) go wrong as well as his great insight about other topics we will all be on the edge of our seats to hear!!!
THE TOP TEN
1.) Dansby Swanson, SS (MLB – Atlanta Braves – 23 years old) – ETA: Late 2016 (MLB Pipeline Rankings – #4 Overall Prospect, #2 SS Prospect, #1 Braves’ Prospect)
Swanson got his feet wet late this season, and proved to the brass that he’s ready to take the reigns to open the new park. All signs point to Dansby opening 2017 as the Braves SS for the foreseeable future. It’s always all but impossible to quell fans’ expectations, but he’s going to be the franchise’s best SS since Rafael Furcal. There are so many great young SSs breaking in right now, folks just need to understand that there’s absolutely no shame in not being an All-Star EVERY YEAR.
2.) Ozhaino Albies, SS/2B (AAA – Gwinnett Braves – 20 years old) – ETA: Early 2017 (MLB Pipeline Rankings – #13 Overall Prospect, #5 SS Prospect, #2 Braves’ Prospect)
Ozzie’s coming folks, and the wait won’t be for much longer. Albies projects more like the aforementioned Furcal than Swanson actually because of his game-changing speed. He’ll start next season in the minors as he recovers from the injury he had late this season, but he’s done little to make many watchers believe he’s not just as “ready” as Swanson. I’m in the camp that believes holding him back had as much to do with staggering service-time clocks (whether the organization wants to admit that or not) as anything else. The new DP combo will be together well before the 2017 All-Star break.
3.) Kevin Maitan, SS (Instructs – 17 years old) – ETA: Late 2019 (MLB Pipeline Rankings – #94 Overall Prospect, #6 Braves’ Prospect)
The timing for the Braves choice to blow past their International Signing cap couldn’t possibly have been better. With the usual big spenders forced to sit the 2016 signing period out, the Braves landed the consensus best 16 year old available for a song. Maitan’s drawn lofty comparisons to arguably the best international hitter in quite some time – Miguel Cabrera. I personally draw an arrow towards Braves’ soon-to-be HOFer Chipper Jones though. The switch-hitter’s bat will potentially move him through the system at light speed, and the guess here is that he eventually forces Austin Riley to LF, Dustin Peterson to RF, and Rio Ruiz to the trade block – winding up as “the answer” at 3B.
4.) Sean Newcomb, LHSP (AAA – Gwinnett Braves – 23 years old) – ETA: Late 2017 (MLB Pipeline Rankings – #48 Overall Prospect, #6 LHP Prospect, #3 Braves’ Prospect)
Newcomb began to “turn the corner” late in 2016, logging at least 6 IP in six of his last nine starts with a 60/21 K/BB Ratio. He also seemed to stop nibbling so much (541 strikes thrown out of 868 pitches during that stretch – better than 62%). The only thing standing between Sean and a rotation spot with the big club at this point is showing the brass that his nibbling days are over, and as soon as that percentage approaches 70, he should get his call.
5.) Kolby Allard, LHSP (Hi-A – Brevard County Manatees – 19 years old) – ETA: Late 2018 (MLB Pipeline Rankings – #63 Overall Prospect, #8 LHP Prospect, #4 Braves’ Prospect)
Viewed by many as the member of the unbelievable Rome 2016 staff with the highest ceiling, the Braves’ top 2015 draft pick sure stepped on the gas to close out his first professional season. Eight of Allard’s last ten starts lasted 6 IP or more including three starts with at least 9 Ks. Another pitcher with top of the rotation stuff (like Mike Foltynewicz and Newcomb) you can expect somewhat unimpressive strike percentages because of the wipeout breaking ball, but Kolby threw strikes with 64.7% of his pitches over his final 8 starts of 2016.
6.) Max Fried, LHSP (Hi-A – Brevard County Manatees – 23 years old) – ETA: Late 2018 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – #11 Braves’ Prospect)
My personal favorite “under-the-radar” arm, Fried has arguably as much upside as anyone in the Braves’ system. Handled with kid gloves for much of this past season, Max really began to breakout down the stretch. He struck out 10 or more hitters in each of his final 4 starts of 2016 – including 13 in Rome’s SALLY League Championship clincher over Lakewood. He posted a 44/7 K/BB Ratio over that stretch and only allowed 16 hits and 7 earned runs during that period. Likened to Clayton Kershaw by some evaluators prior to Tommy John surgery, Fried could become the fast-mover in the system as he continues to prove healthy.
7.) Touki Toussaint, RHSP (Hi-A – Brevard County Manatees – 20 years old) – ETA: Late 2018 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – #10 Braves’ Prospect)
The owner of the nastiest breaking ball in the organization since Craig Kimbrel and John Smoltz, another of the prospects the Braves “stole” from the Diamondbacks began taking a step forward late this season. Like Fried, he also closed with an absolute gem in his Championship Series start against Lakewood, delivering 8 innings of 1 run ball while allowing only 4 hits with 6 Ks and no walks. With continued strides in his command and control, the sky’s the limit.
8.) Ian Anderson, RHSP (Lo-A – Rome Braves – 19 years old) – ETA: Early 2019 (MLB Pipeline Rankings – #81 Overall Prospect, #5 Braves’ Prospect)
The organization’s top pick in the 2016 Draft (#3 overall) certainly didn’t disappoint in the handful of innings he logged after signing. Anderson pitched 39.2 innings for the GCL and Danville Braves and delivered a 2.04 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and had a 36/12 K/BB Ratio. If you throw out the one clunker where he surrendered 5 earned runs in 4 innings on August 22nd, he was as dominant as anyone in the system. Ian’s full-season debut should come in 2017, and while the Braves will be careful with him he’s polished enough to imagine they can be fairly aggressive with his timeline.
9.) Mike Soroka, RHSP (Hi-A – Brevard County Manatees – 19 years old) – ETA: Early 2019 (MLB Pipeline Rankings – #95 Overall Prospect, #7 Braves’ Prospect)
The “quiet one” – at least the arm that doesn’t get talked about loudly enough – Soroka simply mowed people down in his full-season debut. While the 2015 #28 overall pick doesn’t necessarily have the flashy “stuff” several of the other Braves’ youngsters possess, Mike can just flat-out pitch. Don’t let that 60-grade fastball fool you, he wasn’t the member of the Rome rotation you wanted to face any more than the others. The overall line may not knock everyone’s socks off (9-9, 3.02 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), but he won 8 of his last 10 starts and struck out almost 4 hitters for every one he walked on the season.
10.) Austin Riley, 3B (Hi-A – Brevard County Manatees – 20 years old) – ETA: Late 2018 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – #13 Braves’ Prospect)
Riley’s one of those polarizing prospects that drives fans mad because just as soon as you begin to believe in what his detractors say, he suddenly blows up and looks like he may even be better than his believers think he is. The naysayers will tell you “slider speed bat; bulky and will have to move off of 3B in the future”. After hearing those comments, Austin reported to Rome in better shape this past spring. Following a dreadful start (not the first person to struggle adjusting to a new level), he went on an absolute tear down the stretch and finished his first full season with a .271/.324/.479/.803 slash and hit 15 of his 20 HRs after July 4th. So much for that “slider speed bat” – the power is real, and he will profile just fine as a power-hitting LF in the event he’s moved off of 3B.
THE NEXT TEN
11.) Rio Ruiz, 3B (AAA – Gwinnett Braves – 23 years old) – ETA: Late 2016 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – #15 Braves’ Prospect)
Many fans feel like they’ve been hearing about Ruiz forever, and in a sense they have. He was part of the package the organization received in return for Evan Gattis when the rebuild began prior to last season. It would be understandable to question whether they got much in him if you didn’t consider how aggressively he’s been pushed. Unconcerned with his seeming struggles in Mississippi in 2015, he was pushed to Gwinnett for his age 22 season, and he began turning the corner against older competition. Known for his great plate discipline, his numbers against LHP began to improve, and they’ve started working to help Rio start to turn on pitches a little more and tap into his pull power. After getting a late call up following the AAA playoffs, he could very well serve as part of a platoon with Adonis Garcia in Atlanta next spring if the Braves don’t go after a 3B this winter.
12.) Dustin Peterson, LF (AAA – Gwinnett Braves – 22 years old) ETA: Late 2017 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #18 Prospect)
The former second round pick (and 3B) really took a step forward this season. Playing in a notoriously tough hitters’ environment in Mississippi, Dustin slashed .282/.343/.431/.774 with 38 2Bs, 2 3Bs, and 12 HRs with 88 RBIs. If power truly is the last tool to develop, it’s not hard to see him turning some of those 2Bs into balls over the fence and turning into a 20+ HR hitter. Peterson’s arm earns a present grade of 45, but it will be interesting to see if the organization tries him out in RF to see if it can play there.
13.) Lucas Sims, RHSP (AAA – Gwinnett Braves – 23 years old) – ETA: Late 2016 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #14 Prospect)
There’s never been any question about Sims’ talent – he has the ceiling of a top of the rotation starter. With a 65 fastball and 60 curveball, he’s absolutely got swing-and-miss stuff. Thus far he’s still a work in progress, struggling with location and the development of a third pitch. If the light goes on though, look out – with a fastball that typically sits 94-95 mph that he can run up to 97, he reminds some of a young Folty who maintains that velocity deep into games (when he goes deep, that is).
14.) Travis Demeritte, 2B (AA – Mississippi Braves – 22 years old) ETA: Late 2018 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #9 Prospect)
Demeritte is one of those guys to dream on. The former Rangers’ 2013 first rounder hit 25 HRs in his first full season in the SALLY League, then struggled to back that number up in 2014 as Pitchers began to develop a book on him. He rebounded to hit 28 more bombs this season (although 25 of those came in another hitters’ haven in High Desert). Of course those also came with 175 Ks. There’s always going to be quite a bit of swing-and-miss in his game, and he has plenty of arm to move to 3B or an OF corner if the need arises, but for now he’ll remind Braves’ fans of a former big hitter at 2B – Dan Uggla.
15.) Joey Wentz, LHSP (Lo-A – Rome Braves – 19 years old) ETA: Late 2019 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #8 Prospect)
I’ve got the next two guys lower than you’re likely to see them other places – not because of any of their tools, but because they’re so far away and I’m a little higher on a couple of the previously mentioned guys than some. Don’t sleep on them though, both definitely have high ceilings. Wentz could turn into yet another frontline SP, with a plus fastball and two offspeed pitches that project as at least average MLB offerings. Joey struck out 35 hitters in the 32 innings he pitched after signing, and still could add more velocity (he already touches 95) as he fills out his 6’5″ frame.
16.) Kyle Muller, LHSP (Lo-A – Rome Braves – 19 years old) ETA: Early 2020 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #12 Prospect)
The third well-known arm the Braves selected in the 2016 draft (#44 overall) is another imposing lefty with plus stuff and a high ceiling. While he probably doesn’t project as a #1/#2 SP right now, Muller’s low-90s fastball already has good movement and run, and there could be more velocity to come – having jumped from the mid-80s since last spring. Like all young Pitchers, Kyle’s secondary pitches need work, but his 42/13 K/BB Rate in his first taste of pro ball shows there’s plenty there to work with.
17.) A. J. Minter, LHRP (AAA – Gwinnett Braves – 23 years old) ETA: Early 2017 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #29 Prospect)
Minter’s someone I’ve been really high on since the organization scooped him up in the 2015 draft, and he showed exactly why this season by jumping all the way to Mississippi. A first round talent with an injury history, the Braves gambled on him with the #75 overall pick, and that gamble is close to paying off already. His propensity to miss bats while not putting runners on (47/11 K/BB Ratio with a .84 WHIP in 34.2 IP) with a plus fastball/cutter combination already has him on the fringe of the discussion about who will be in the Atlanta pen next season. While it appears the Braves have several other youngsters who could turn out to be good Closers, keep A. J. in the back of your mind as someone who could fill that role if given the chance.
18.) Ronald Acuna, CF (Hi-A – Brevard County Manatees – 19 years old) ETA: Late 2018 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #17 Prospect)
Tools, tools, tools. Acuna oozes them, and is a candidate to really begin climbing the major ranking lists in 2017. Slowed most of this year with a thumb injury, Ronald still showed he has the makings of a good big league OF, and maybe even better than that. For now, 4 of his 5 tools grade out as above-average (50 or better on the 80 scale), with the only one not there being his 45 (average) power. With more experience, that has a good chance to improve as well. As it stands, he projects as a capable replacement for Ender Inciarte or Mallex Smith in CF in a few years. If the power develops, watch out.
19.) Patrick Weigel, RHSP (AA – Mississippi Braves – 22 years old) ETA: Late 2018 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #28 Prospect)
Another big righty with a big arm (fastball that sits 94 with more velocity there when he wants it), Weigel both impressed and took a pretty big step forward in 2016. While he still needs to work on his command, Patrick’s slider and curveball flash as plus offerings when he’s on, and his feel for a changeup is improving. Patrick misses plenty of bats (152 Ks in 149.2 IP this season), and his workload reflects that his big frame (6’6″,220 lbs.) should stand up to the workload desired from SPs at the highest level soon. How fast he moves, as well as how high his ceiling is, will be dictated by the progress he shows with his offspeed pitches . He could be ready to contribute as a #3 SP (if not better) as early as 2018 if he performs well next season.
20.) Max Povse, RHSP (AAA – Gwinnett Braves – 23 years old) ETA: Early 2018 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #20 Prospect)
Povse is a little like Wiegel with a slightly lower ceiling – more likely as a #4/#5 at the MLB level. His fastball is a tick slower, and his breaking stuff needs at least as much work (likely grading out as average at best). He has that size that scouts love though. At 6’8″ tall, his stuff could still take a step forward because he can create that downward plane so many power pitchers have. Max has better present control than Weigel, with almost a 5/1 K/BB Ratio at Mississippi in 2016, and could feasibly be ready to contribute in 2018 as well.
THE FINAL TEN
21.) Chris Ellis, RHSP (AAA – Gwinnett Braves – 24 years old) – ETA: Late 2017 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #16 Prospect)
If you expected to see Ellis higher, you’re not alone. The “other arm” the Braves received from Los Angeles in the Andrelton Simmons trade, Chris seemed to regress during the second half of the 2016 season – struggling mightily with his control. Following 13 solid starts with Mississippi he was all over the place in his 15 Gwinnett starts, posting a 4-7 record with a 6.52 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, and 65/52 K/BB Ratio. His .269 BAA and 0.49 GO/FO Ratio were rather unimpressive as well, and will need to improve before he’s ever considered for a spot in the big club’s rotation. Still only 24, Ellis has time on his side – but both his fastball and slider play up when he can throw them harder, and he may be more of a long reliever if he makes it to SunTrust Park.
22.) Michael Mader, LHSP (AA – Mississippi Braves – 23 years old) ETA: Late 2017 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Unranked)
The least talked about trade the team has made during the rebuild (Hunter Cervenka) landed two prospects who made our list. Mader is the first of those, and his limited time down the stretch screams “steal”. In his 30 IP (5 starts), Michael posted a 2.40 ERA with 27 hits allowed, a 1.10 WHIP, 26/6 K/BB Ratio, and a .233 BAA, with a complete game. If not for his one forgettable outing in Chattanooga on August 29th, Michael may well have posted numbers that rivaled any arm in the system. With three offerings that have flashed plus at times (including a fastball that touches 95), he may be putting things together at just the right time to get a look late next season if Matt Wisler and a couple prospects struggle to make the adjustments they need to.
23.) Braxton Davidson, RF (AA – Mississippi Braves – 20 years old) – ETA: Late 2018 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #24 Prospect)
Davidson is a prospect that has driven fans crazy since he was drafted, so much so that some have already given up on him. Don’t make that mistake – Braxton still has a chance to become a special hitter, the kind that the organization thinks he’ll still become. It’s hard for people to remember that he’s still only 20 since this was his second year in full season ball. He already possesses the eye everyone wants their hitters to develop, and has actually been too selective at the plate thus far. As he learns to drive some of those pitches that aren’t quite “perfect”, his plus raw power could put him on the fast track – making him a realistic option to replace Nick Markakis in RF when his contract is up.
24.) Cristian Pache, CF (Lo-A – Rome Braves – 18 years old) ETA: Early 2019 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #28 Prospect)
Pache joins Mader and Davidson as the three players from our final 10 to keep the closest eye on in 2017. The 2015 international signee joins Mallex Smith and Ronald Acuna as potential impact CFs in the system. Pushed aggressively by the organization (competing in both rookie leagues as a 17 year old), Cristian responded by delivering a .309/.349/.391/.740 line with 4 2Bs, 7 3Bs, and 11 SBs in his first stateside experience. His current 40 power projection is his only below-average tool, and that’s something some scouts feel has a good chance to improve as he fills out. If it does, he joins Acuna as potential true five tool guys.
25.) Derian Cruz, SS (Rookie – Danville Braves – 18 years old) ETA: Early 2019 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Unranked)
The other highly thought-of member of the organization’s 2015 international class, Cruz was also given an aggressive assignment when he was brought over to spend his age 17 season in the states. While he struggled a bit more during his time with Danville, that hasn’t done much to give anyone reason to sour on him. The #5 overall prospect in that class has double-plus speed (80 projection). He’s been compared to Yankees’ #3 prospect Jorge Mateo (#19 overall according to MLB Pipeline’s Top 100), and if he grows into the gap power he projects to have he could be a game-changer on the bases.
26.) Ricardo Sanchez, LHSP (Lo-A – Rome Braves – 20 years old) – ETA: Early 2019 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #25 Prospect)
Yet another of the organization’s prospects who has been aggressively pushed, Sanchez may at least begin the 2017 season in Rome again. The smallish lefty showed flashes at times this season, but was an afterthought when compared to the rest of the amazing Rome staff. A re-do might be just what the doctor ordered for Ricardo’s confidence, and may be just the springboard he needs. While his stuff plays (an average fastball with movement to go with a curve and changeup that have the chance to be plus offerings), he needs to work on fastball command if he’s to have any chance of becoming a back-end guy in a rotation.
27.) Carlos Castro, 1B (Hi-A – Brevard County Manatees – 23 years old) – ETA: Early 2019 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Unranked)
Prior to the 2016 season, Castro was likely as far away from making this list as a prospect could get. A little old for his level, Carlos had done little to attract attention (6 HRs in 613 career minor league ABs over his first 4 seasons in the Braves’ organization). Following an overhaul of his swing that cut his GO/AO Ratio by more than half, Carlos exploded in Rome with 15 2Bs, 4 3Bs, and 17 bombs in 305 ABs. His .301 OBP is a little concerning of course, but if he can make strides in the pitch-recognition department the Braves have potentially found themselves another slugger – reports reflect that very few of his homers were wall-scrapers.
28.) Luke Dykstra, 2B (Hi-A – Brevard County Manatees – 21 years old) – ETA: Late 2018 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Braves’ #30 prospect)
Much like his Dad, Dykstra can hit – and hitters usually make it somehow. Luke’s an “OK” defender who handles most plays well, but his bat is definitely what will get him to the big leagues if he makes it. He’s also the kind of “makeup” kid the organization has always been famous for liking. He likely may begin to see a little time at other positions in the hope that he can eventually develop as a super-sub type that can be called on to hit late in games.
29.) Juan Contreras, RHSP (Instructs -17 years old) ETA: Late 2020 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Unranked)
Another member of the Braves’ big 2016 international haul, Contreras isn’t talked about quite as much as several of the others, but there’s LOTS of upside here. Juan was only #41 on Baseball America’s list for this class, but the 16 year old already has a fastball that touches 94 with downhill plane and plenty of time to grow. It’s rather easy to imagine frontline potential with elite velocity in a few years, and even if his breaking stuff never catches up with his heater, everybody could use a few Mauricio Cabreras in their bullpen.
30.) Bryse Wilson, RHSP (Lo A – Rome Braves – 19 years old) ETA: Late 2019 (MLB Pipeline Ranking – Unranked)
In case you haven’t noticed, big arms have become all the rage around baseball – and the organization hasn’t ignored this trend. The Braves stepped up in the 4th round of the 2016 draft to take Wilson, and stole him away from his commitment to UNC when they signed him. He did little to disappoint anyone (other than Carolina fans, that is) by making 9 Gulf Coast League appearances after signing, delivering a 29/8 K/BB Ratio in 26.2 IP while allowing only 16 hits and a .172 BAA. The former high school two-sport standout is definitely someone to keep a close eye on as players listed above begin to graduate to the big leagues over the next two years.
This system has become incredibly deep in a hurry, and it’s a shame to stop this list at 30. There are quite a few players that didn’t make this list that could feasibly have been inside the Top 20 in other systems, so we’ll give you some more names to watch for in 2017 to file away in the back of your mind. Even with them, there will be more you’re likely to hear good things about soon…
Ray-Patrick Didder, Corbin Clouse, Juan Yepez, Chase Johnson-Mullins, Devan Watts, Abrahan Gutierrez, Livan Soto, Yunior Severino, Caleb Dirks, Matt Withrow, Brett Cumberland, Isranel Wilson, Alan Rangel, William Contreras, Anthony Concepcion, Anfernee Seymour